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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Unheard Voices

New World Outlook, March/April 2007

The Mission Magazine of The United Methodist Church

The 'Separation Wall' surrounding the West Bank town of Qalqilya, divides Palestinians from their lands as well as Palestinians from Israelis. On the West Bank side, the wall has become a canvas for protesters.
Photo by: Paul Jeffrey / A

Hardly any one heard him cry and I was the only one that watched the tears flow down his cheeks. He came to my office to seek help, but his problem was too enormous for a simple clergyman like me to solve. He is a Palestinian citizen of Bethlehem who once had a small piece of land near Rachel's Tomb. The Israeli settlers, with the full knowledge and protection of their government, confiscated his land and destroyed his business in order to build a yeshiva (a Jewish school of theology) upon that confiscated piece of land. He is no terrorist. He is just a Palestinian Greek Orthodox shopkeeper--a husband, father, and grandfather. His land happens to be in a place that was coveted by the directors of that school of theology. He has as much power to resist the yeshiva as Naboth the Israelite, who lived 2,700 years ago, had to resisting King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, who plotted to inherit Naboth's vineyard.

I did my utmost to comfort him and then I suggested, "Let us see the property." When we reached the edge of his land, we watched the bulldozers digging while the soldiers stood guard. As he looked at the scene, he turned to me with more sobs and tears and said, "I am finished! I am finished; they have destroyed me!"

Then as Now
He is one of thousands of Palestinian men, women, and children who are shouting, but their voices are silenced by the shouts and screams of those who are stealing the land, oppressing the poor and the weak. Those who are conspiring against his livelihood have skillfully managed to control what most of us hear and see via different means of modern communications.

In his description of the trial of Jesus before the Roman Governor Pontus Pilate, Luke, the author of the third Gospel, expressed skillfully how the shouts of the religiously and politically powerful can diminish the chances of a fair trial. He wrote:

Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, "You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore, I will punish him and then release him."

With one voice they cried out, "Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!" (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.) Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, "Crucify him! Crucify him!"

For the third time he spoke to them: "Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him."

But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will. (Luke 23:13-25)

Tragically, 2000 years after the trial of our Lord, the voices that want to smother the truth are still prevailing.

Prevented from Reaching Worship
During the Easter season, there will be much sadness in the Christian communities in the Holy Land. The wall that the Israelis have built around Bethlehem to cut it off from Jerusalem is already preventing parents living on one side of the wall from visiting their children and grandchildren on the other side. No more the normal joy of worshiping together and the simple enjoyment of an Easter egg hunt for the children after an Easter Sunrise Service.

Members of the Council of Local Evangelical Churches in the Holy Land are frequently denied permits to travel the six-mile trip from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. During Easter 2006, 400 names were submitted to the Israeli officials with hopes of getting permits. But their voices went unheard. The president of the council worked day in and day out calling every possible Israeli official to petition the permits, but to no avail. Baptist, Nazarene, Presbyterian, and Pentecostal congregations in Bethlehem are being denied access to Jerusalem and its Holy sites and are no longer guaranteed the freedom of continuing their Easter religious celebrations. Their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem must get used to worshiping without fellowship with their brothers and sisters from the West Bank. The voices of these Palestinian Evangelicals are being muffled and unheard, even by their Evangelical brothers and sisters in Western nations.

Muslims are also burning with the flames of injustice, but hardly anyone in the Western world cares to hear their cries. Israelis constantly inflict harsh measures on all Palestinians. They attack and kill Palestinian Muslims on a regular basis in the name of security. When Israelis strike at a neighborhood in the Gaza Strip and scores of Palestinian men, women, and children get killed, the cries of these oppressed hardly make it into the airwaves or our digital world. But when militant Islamic groups strike in retaliation, the loud voices of condemnation, outrage, and denial come from everywhere. Israeli voices prevail, although for every Israeli adult killed in this bloody conflict, four Palestinian adults are also slain, and for every Israeli child slain, six Palestinian children are killed. There is hardly a Palestinian in the West Bank or in the Gaza Strip that is not suffering because of the measures that the Israelis have taken within the Palestinian territories in the last 40 years. But unlike the rest of humanity, the Palestinians are not allowed to resist the occupation of their land and woe to them when they attempt to halt those who are keen on the destruction of their political aspirations. Today, the Palestinians have control of less than 12 percent of historic Palestine. Yet the voices of those who swallowed up most of Palestine are prevailing.

The Rev. Alex Awad is a missionary of the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church serving with his wife Brenda in Palestine. He is the pastor of a small international church in East Jerusalem and teaches at Bethlehem Bible College.


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